But all the cool kids are doing it

Summary of articles

Did you know that 92% of teenagers participate in online activities or social media every day? Although I didn’t know this particular statistic before reading Teens, Social Media, and Technology Overview 2015 by Amanda Lenhart, I knew that teens, and adults, use their Internet profusely.

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat Top Social Media Platforms for Teens

Personally, although I was not actively on social media prior to taking this EC&I 831 course (with the exception of my very active Pinterest board), I used the Internet multiple times a day for a variety of tasks, including – but not limited to – taking attendance, finding definitions, translating words, and finding phone numbers. Therefore, although nearing 100%, that percentage of teenagers finding themselves online daily does not surprise me. What they use, however, is surprising.

I always thought of Facebook as being the ‘go-to’ social media for teens. That still being true – as can be seen in the diagram to the right and according to the Pew Research Center – it may be nearing its end. According to the article How Teens are Really Using Social Media by Katie Lepi (written in 2014), Youtube is in fact the most popular site used by teens and tweens. The infographic below – quoted in the same article by Katie Lepi – demonstrates the overall current use of social media, both the good and the bad, by tweens and teenagers aged 12-17.

teens social media

Source: Lepi, Katie. (2014). How Teens are Really Using Social Media. Edudemic. Found Monday, February 15th, 2015 on http://www.edudemic.com/teens-are-really-using-social-media/

Many sources tend to agree, however, that teens in general are using several social media platforms daily,  although socio-economic status and gender do play a role in what kind of social media platforms they will use more frequently. Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Tumblr, Facebook, Kik, and Pinterest are but a few examples of social media websites that teens are using to share their identities, their stories, and their voices – all with different popularity rates. As mentioned, Facebook has previously dominated teens’ use of online activity, but as Felicity Duncan reiterates, Facebook is on its way out while other, more ephemeral mediums, are on their way in.

“[T]he newest data increasingly support the idea that young people are actually transitioning out of using what we might term broadcast social media – like Facebook and Twitter – and switching instead to using narrowcast tools – like Messenger or Snapchat” Felicity Duncan, 2016

Teens are being swayed away from Facebook, partly because it is no longer simply for the young, and partly because it has a permanency that is intimidating for socially-aware (and future-driven) youth. Other platforms offer teens more temporary and less judgmental ways of sharing their stories, as can be seen in the short video below:


Now, what does this mean for us? 

When I first heard that Snapchat was replacing Facebook for teens, I was shocked. How? More importantly, why? I had heard of Snapchat before (my students always try to explain different elements of social media to me, as they obviously know more than I do on this topic), but more often than not, my peers and students alike would always quote a picture or a person from Facebook. I thought it still dominated social media venues. To me, the idea that a picture only lasts a few seconds or, as mentioned in the video above, a story lasts only 24 hours and then disappears, seems like a waste. Why wouldn’t they want to keep these memories forever, just like they can on Facebook?

I was still wrapping my brain around this topic when I read How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life. Then it clicked: the judgment. Justine Sacco – a PR rep – lost her job, her anonymity, her pride as well as her family’s, and many other things after Tweeting a seemingly racial, ignorant message before boarding an 11 hour plane ride. Her tweet went viral, and the world judged her immediately, considerably, and harshly. She isn’t the only victim of intense online scrutiny; many have suffered under the public view of these social media sites. Their comments, either meant for a simple few, misread, or misinterpreted, have been openly judged by thousands of people online. Some of these people do not hold back. Their words can be cold, hard, insulting, threatening, and violent. These social media outlets make bullying easy (when misused). Not only that, but both victims and perpetrators (as well as bystanders) have constant access to it. It is not only bullying during school or work hours, but rather 24/7 in front of a worldwide audience. What could be more intimidating?

“Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval, and that is what led to [Sacco’s] undoing. Her tormentors were instantly congratulated as they took Sacco down, bit by bit, and so they continued to do so. Their motivation was much the same as Sacco’s own — a bid for the attention of strangers — as she milled about Heathrow, hoping to amuse people she couldn’t see.” Jon Ronson, 2015

We all know teens fear social judgment, so I can understand a move from permanency to ephemerality when the possibilities for judgment online are endless. I do find it to be a positive; knowing that teenagers are realizing there is future impact of their present actions, a relation between cause and consequence. That being said, I am beginning to understand the encouraging draw of social media for educational elements. As Felicity Duncan wrote, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter can engage teenagers in important social justice and political issues. It opens up avenues for discussions and ample information. It offers students the opportunities to sift through the information given, and come out with deeper critical thinking abilities in determining what is good or bad information, proper or improper.

Earlier this year, I did a major federal election unit with my students. Although some statistics show that few are actually using social media to partake in political action, it doesn’t change the fact that the information is out there, more available for people to see. I personally was not on social media at this time, but I knew many others who were constantly on their Facebook or Twitter accounts; they were visiting these outlets not only see what the politicians were promoting, but also what others were praising and/or critiquing about the political platforms. Even though they may not always be participating in these discussions, teenagers and adults tend to take notice when the information is present, in front of their eyes, in places they visit often. It makes them more aware of what is happening around them, and gives them information about what they can do to change their society or have a say in what happens to their country. If students no longer visit these social media outlets, some important lessons and critical information will be lost in the process.

“[O]ver six million tweets and more than 33 million interactions — posts, likes, comments and shares — on Facebook since June 1” (Ira Besan, 2015, CBC News) about the Canadian Federal Election. 

So what should we do. We are the educators, who have to take on the role of teaching our students how to use social media. We can’t ignore it – as if it will go away – nor can we purposefully decide students do not need it in their lives. They are using it, and they will not matter what. We need to teach them how to use it (what to say, how to word things properly, what not to say, etc.), what to do with the online judgment that may come their way, and why outlets such as Twitter and Facebook (as well as Snapchat and other venues that are taking over) have both social and educational value.

Vicki Davis developed a list of twelve great suggestions for the use of social media in the classroom, including (but not limited to) using podcasts for student work, making connections worldwide with other classrooms, communicating with parents, and furthering a social justice cause that particularly peaks the interest of students. The possibilities are truly endless, but we can’t forget the importance of teaching students the value of digital citizenship. Yes, it is permanent when it’s on Facebook or Twitter. So don’t stop using it; just make sure what you are saying and what you are doing count. Avoid the judgment towards others, and make your digital identity a positive one. If we can teach teenagers to achieve these goals, who knows what can happen for them, and society, in the future.

“Social media is here. It’s just another resource and doesn’t have to be a distraction from learning objectives. Social media is another tool that you can use to make your classroom more engaging, relevant and culturally diverse.” Vicki Davis, 2015

I’m still wondering…

How do you think we can encourage students to eliminate the judgment online? It seems so easy to simply tell them what happened to people like Justine Sacco (who I am not necessarily defending, simply using as an example), and what they should do to avoid being the victims, perpetrators, and bystanders in these situations. However, I feel as though we tell them the same things about bullying people in person, and yet this still persists. What else can we do?

Furthermore, some of the statistics used in this blog date back to 2014 and 2015. This is not old, but I do wonder how quickly things change with social media and technology. My students are always coming to tell me about the newest vine, newest dance move, and newest thing gone viral. How often do we need to be taking statistics of teenagers to understand how social media affects who they are and what they do?


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4 Responses to But all the cool kids are doing it

  1. asingh2 says:

    Hi Elizabeth

    I had some of those same thoughts too – are these statistics still accurate? I think that conversations with students do need to be on-going and authentic in order to help them understand the vastness of the internet and the implications of posting and sharing.

    While I would love to use the Justine Sacco example with them, I shy away from that – instead using close to home examples of people being shamed via facebook/media for ‘bad choices’/’mistakes’ (dine and dashers…) that people make and questioning/discussing how fair it is that that mistake/bad choice stays with them.


  2. You have a good point, Amy. I think that maybe using examples closers to home and having it be a constant and consistent conversation is key to success in this area. Thanks so much for the advice!


  3. I suppose another question to ask is how accurate these statistics are in general: where they are coming from, etc. Not only do we have to worry about how frequently we are changing, but we also need to be considering how these rapid changes are affecting our understanding of valid and reliable research (statistics) and how we must alter our understanding of research in order to gain a better insight into what these statistics mean and how they affect educators and the education system as a whole.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I was shocked to know that snapchat finds a way out the fierce competition and wins!


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